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Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti must hold nerve as Premier League race reaches its climax
Published : 17 Apr 2010 20:57:42
The mind could not help but wander on Saturday to thoughts of how Carlo Ancelotti, a fellow with rather stricter rules of engagement with his public, might react to such a triumph. He had suggested mischievously last Christmas that he might be tempted to run around naked if Chelsea were to wrest the championship from Manchester United, but the hint was not one of conviction, made instead to satisfy commentators seeking some colour in his character. Related ArticlesAncelotti happy with Chelsea pensionersAshley Cole returns for Chelsea against SpursRoman Abramovich falls to 4th in Russia's rich listWembley likely to relay pitchJohn Terry urges Chelsea to grab immortalitySport on televisionThe world outside Chelsea's cloisters is rarely afforded a glimpse of Ancelotti the man. Players have confided that when he becomes agitated about a performance, he is given to swear in Italian at half-time if so, the visitors' dressing room here must have been the scene of an extravagant Latin tongue-lashing after as feeble a first-half display as Chelsea have offered all season. But all the while the cameras are trained on his dug-out the 50 year-old stands inscrutable, a scheming silver fox with a demeanour every bit as grey as his hair. Any animation is left to Ray Wilkins, imparting instructions with boundless enthusiasm, as he mutters and glowers. You could tell his heart-rate was quickening on Saturday, however: Paul Scholes's latest of lunchtime winners for United had been an ominous signal for Chelsea, and every lapse by his team brought him strutting to the touchline. Ancelotti's stock has risen and fallen faster than that of a multinational bank in the last 12 months. Few Chelsea supporters bought wholly into the Roman Abramovich's logic when he decided last summer to lavish £3 million a season on the AC Milan manager with multiple European Cups but little Mourinho-like charisma. He did little to assuage those doubts with his performance throughout last month's Champions League defeat to, of all adversaries, Mourinho. Where Mourinho was coiled like a spring, Ancelotti appeared rooted to the spot, watching on helplessly as he failed to deliver the one prize he had been lured to provide. Franco Baresi, his former consigliere at the San Siro, had said that 'Carletto' was at Chelsea 'for one reason only' to make Chelsea the toast of Europe and was all but guaranteed to do it. Falling several stages short of that target and at the hands of Inter Milan's posturing Portuguese should have been the cause for utter deflation. Only Ancelotti does not respond in that way, addressing every setback with old-school pragmatism. This style was in evidence again on Saturday as Didier Drogba suffered a groin strain in the warm-up to the second half: Ancelotti saw his talismanic striker was in some discomfort but had a not insignificant problem, in that he had already used up all three substitutes. He did his best to remonstrate with fourth official Kevin Friend but, concluding perhaps that Drogba was built like a middleweight boxer and more than capable of fending off the attentions of Gareth Bale, told the Ivorian to get on with the game. It was a game fit to test even Ancelotti's renowned nerve. As Deco and Tom Huddlestone became embroiled in an unseemly scuffle, he simply turned to his staff and let Wilkins make the intervention. The bald-headed assistant could at least have passed himself more plausibly as a bouncer in another life. Ancelotti has dealt with enough problems this season to make yesterday's little local difficulty at Tottenham seem relatively trifling. He has had to brush aside headlines intimating that Chelsea's European exit would prompt Abramovich to lose patience, to ignore all the salaciousness attending the private lives of John Terry and Ashley Cole, and he has done it all with a consummate air of calm. There have been other notable consequences of his careful man-management, not least the emergence of Florent Malouda into a player of real stature and the assimilation of Yuri Zhirkov and Branislav Ivanovic into a first-team defence riddled with injuries. He leaves Mourinho in the shade if not by force of personality, then by his vast experience. A more accomplished player than his bete noire could ever have aspired to be, Ancelotti once kept the company of Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, and was likely to have been nothing but sanguine about the latest misdemeanour by his captain, Terry, sent off for a late and clumsy challenge. Terry's trudge from the field, to the shrill crowing of the Tottenham fans, created scarcely a ruffle in his manager's controlled aspect. That control will remain just as constant as he surveys this morning the damage inflicted on Chelsea's title challenge by Tottenham's inspiration and Terry's impetuousness. Any suspicions that he could yet go naked for a Chelsea title celebration can be shelved. But he will not be following Mourinho's lead in tossing his medal away. This title, should it finally come his way, will have been earned the hard way. It will have been earned Ancelotti's way.